Our city government both ignores and attacks citizens who do not have. As long as we live in a capitalistic society, government should be used to offset the inequality that capitalism creates. Instead of giving tax breaks, grants, $1 properties, and loans that never get paid back to rich out-of-town developers, we should be using our money to create real opportunity for our citizens.
We must shift more of our public economic development resources to the creation of worker-owned businesses, the kind that are run democratically by the workers.
In 2013, a number of Greens ran for local office. Our biggest issue was the transformation to a more democratic local economy. While none of the Green candidates won that year, our focus on co-operative economics spurred the creation of the Market Driven Community Cooperatives Initiative, which led to Own Rochester, a local non-profit whose mission is to foster the growth of worker-owned businesses. Both the MDCC & Own Rochester are too small.
More resources to help train more groups of people to start businesses and convert already established companies into democratically-run ones are desperately needed. And the money we usually give to large, out-of-town developers should go to help start hundreds of coops in the City of Rochester.
Such businesses that should be encouraged would be ones that focus on the daily needs of our community: food, clothing, shelter, health care, day care, etc.
I will propose and support legislation as well as advocate for city budgets that provide funding and other resources to start locally-owned, cooperatively run businesses in geographical areas where people need the basic necessities. I would like to see the governmental infrastructure we already have be repurposed to help create specific kinds of businesses, such as:
Urban Farms that would be surrounded by symbiotic businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and food production that would buy directly from the farms themselves. Also connected to this could be my idea for municipal composting.
New and/or used clothing stores would be vital to poorer neighborhoods, particularly with the closing of the Volunteers of America stores.
A cooperatively-owned department store downtown.
Repair shops that specialize in the fixing of appliances, both large and small, to prevent such items ending up in landfills and reducing household costs for families.
Manufacturing businesses that create goods and materials made from recycled materials that can be bought from our own municipal recycling plant.
Currently we have a cooperatively owned acupuncture clinic in Rochester. We need the same for other types of health care that address physical and mental needs.
We need gyms and yoga studios that are not just on Park and University Avenues that are affordable for everyone.
Lack of day care is one of the leading causes of poverty in Rochester. We need more day care centers in the city that are affordable and cooperatively-owned.
These businesses are not to attract suburban patrons to the city. These businesses are to help Rochestarians take care of themselves. Adopting this economic philosophy will reduce crime, solidify neighborhoods, improve our schools, and more.
How would we do all of this? It's not that difficult. Like we do with other parts of our budget, the City would put out something similar to Requests For Proposals (RFP) or a list of the kinds of cooperatives we want to establish. Groups of people can express interest in a specific co-op or individuals who want to participate can be teamed with other like-minded individuals. Resources that already exist can be used to create business plans. The money we have been giving to rich, out-of-town developers can instead be given to these people to create much-needed, viable cooperative businesses in the areas that need them the most. We already have the governmental infrastructure to do these things, we just need the political will to make it happen.
This is just a brief description of how this could work. The specifics would have to be worked out in a transparent, collaborative fashion. The benefits to adjusting our economic development philosophy to focus on locally-owned cooperatives is clear. We will be better off investing in dozens of new businesses in a year than a handful of big-ticket projects in which all the development money (and future profits) leave town.